Processing adjunct control: Evidence on the use of structural information and prediction in reference resolution
How does online comprehension of adjunct control ("before eating") compare to resolution of pronominal anaphora ("before he ate")?
Linguistics | Philosophy
The comprehension of anaphoric relations may be guided not only by discourse, but also syntactic information. In the literature on online processing, however, the focus has been on audible pronouns and descriptions whose reference is resolved mainly on the former. This paper examines one relation that both lacks overt exponence, and relies almost exclusively on syntax for its resolution: adjunct control, or the dependency between the null subject of a non-finite adjunct and its antecedent in sentences such as Mickey talked to Minnie before ___ eating. Using visual-world eyetracking, we compare the timecourse of interpreting this null subject and overt pronouns (Mickey talked to Minnie before he ate). We show that when control structures are highly frequent, listeners are just as quick to resolve reference in either case. When control structures are less frequent, reference resolution based on structural information still occurs upon hearing the non-finite verb, but more slowly, especially when unaided by structural and referential predictions. This may be due to increased difficulty in recognizing that a referential dependency is necessary. These results indicate that in at least some contexts, referential expressions whose resolution depends on very different sources of information can be resolved approximately equally rapidly, and that the speed of interpretation is largely independent of whether or not the dependency is cued by an overt referring expression.
Events in Semantics
Event Semantics says that clauses in natural languages are descriptions of events. Why believe this?
Linguistics | Philosophy
Event Semantics (ES) says that clauses in natural languages are descriptions of events. Why believe this? The answer cannot be that we use clauses to talk about events, or that events are important in ontology or psychology. Other sorts of things have the same properties, but no special role in semantics. The answer must be that this view helps to explain the semantics of natural languages. But then, what is it to explain the semantics of natural languages? Here there are many approaches, differing on whether natural languages are social and objective or individual and mental; whether the semantics delivers truth values at contexts or just constraints on truth-evaluable thoughts; which inferences it should explain as formally provable, if any; and which if any grammatical patterns it should explain directly. The argument for ES will differ accordingly, as will the consequences, for ontology, psychology, or linguistics, of its endorsement. In this chapter I trace the outlines of this story, sketching four distinct arguments for the analysis that ES makes possible: with it we can treat a dependent phrase and its syntactic host as separate predicates of related or identical events. Analysis of this kind allows us to state certain grammatical generalizations, formalize patterns of entailment, provide an extensional semantics for adverbs, and most importantly to derive certain sentence meanings that are not easily derived otherwise. But in addition, it will systematically validate inferences that are unsound, if we think conventionally about events and semantics. The moral is, with ES we cannot maintain both an ordinary metaphysics and a truth-conditional semantics that is simple. Those who would accept ES, and draw conclusions about the world or how we view it, must therefore choose which concession to make. I discuss four notable choices.
Why control of PRO in rationale clauses is not a relation between arguments
"The ship was sunk to collect the insurance." The sinker may be the intended collector of insurance. But not, argue Jeff and Alexander against the common view, because of a grammatical relation between arguments in the two clauses.
Arguments in Syntax and Semantics
A primer on the fundamentals of argument structure in syntax and semantics.
Agents in Mandarin and Igbo resultatives
The semantics of subjecthood in resultative constructions, comparing Igbo to English and Mandarin.
Causal VVs in Mandarin
The syntax and interpretation of Mandarin verbal compounds with a resultative interpretation, in overview.
Null Complement Anaphors as definite descriptions
"Ron won" is less like "Ron won it" than it is like "Ron won the contest."
Themes, cumulativity, and resultatives: Comments on Kratzer 2003
Alexander Williams argues against Kratzer's claim that direct objects do not in general bind a general thematic relation.
According to Kratzer (2003), the thematic relation Theme, construed very generally, is not a ‘‘natural relation.’’ She says that the ‘‘natural relations’’ are ‘‘cumulative’’ and argues that Theme is not cumulative, in contrast to Agent. It is therefore best, she concludes, to remove Theme from the palette of semantic analysis. Here I oppose the premises of Kratzer’s argument and then introduce a new challenge to her conclusion, based on the resultative construction in Mandarin. The facts show that Theme and Agent are on equal footing, insofar as neither has the property that Kratzer’s conjecture requires of a natural relation.
Patients in Igbo and Mandarin
An argument from resultative compounds in Igbo and Mandarin that direct objects bind a thematic relation introduced, not by either verb, but by their structural context.